Will the Habs Set Their Mark on Markov?

Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov is an experienced defenceman with a lot of gas left in the tank and the Canadiens would be hard pressed to replace him. (Icon SMI)

By Ari Grief (@HabsFanLeafLand) It’s common knowledge that Marc Bergevin will have his hands full this coming offseason, no matter what fate awaits the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens. Obviously, his first priority is signing the reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, a racehorse of a player who will command somewhere in the $8 million per season range. Subban knows it. Bergevin knows it. And the guy who signs the cheques, Geoff Molson, most definitely knows it.

Aside from Subban, the other Habs whose contracts are up at the end of this season are:

Brian Gionta

Ryan White

Francis Bouillon

Lars Eller

Raphael Diaz

and last but not least, Andrei Markov.

As the Canadiens were seemingly stuck in neutral for the first few weeks of the season, many around Habs Nation were calling for the end of Markov in a Habs uniform. Markov is currently the longest-serving Montreal Canadien and just like Tomas Plekanec, has never laced ‘em up for another NHL team.

In this day and age where players go after the big bucks wherever they can get it (and who can blame them really – just ask former Habs d-man James Wisniewski, who signed a whopping 6-year, $33 million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2011), one gets the sense that the career Hab Markov really just wants to end his career in Montreal.

Some Seek the Limelight, Others Just Want to Win

Some players seek the fame, fortune and limelight à la Eric Lindros — who even before playing his first NHL game felt that Quebec City wasn’t big enough for him. So he sought the bigger fame that only a big American city can provide and demanded a trade, eventually landing in Philadelphia.

But Markov isn’t one of those players. A solid teammate who is happy to just quietly go about his business, he even became a Canadian citizen a few years back. And after a bit of a wonky start this season, Markov has slowly but surely regained his form and in the process, the title of number one defenseman on the team, dethroning Subban in the process.

It’s important to note – and something that Coach Therrien has gone out of his way to make us all aware of – that it’s Subban who is the pupil, no matter his Norris-winning ways; while Markov is the mentor. And he’s also mentored Alexei Emelin, something invaluable to the young rearguard’s transition into the NHL from the KHL.

Markov has slowly but surely found his game and served as a mentor to both Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Markov has slowly but surely found his game and served as a mentor to both Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s been a tough ride for Andrei Markov with the two knee surgeries and the uncertainty that comes with those operations as to how those knees would hold up. But they have and game by game, shift by shift Markov has regained his confidence of old.

This season marks the end of Markov’s three year, $5.75 million pact signed under former Canadiens GM Mnsr Pierre Gauthier, a deal tacked on top of his previous four-year deal with the same cap hit. Later this month, the Russian turns 35 and even though his mobility isn’t what it once was, the man will most likely command the same kind of money for his services moving forward.

But money isn’t the issue. Bergevin would surely be more than happy to sign him to a two-year deal at that price. The issue is term. Markov will probably want at least another three year pact so he doesn’t have to contemplate his future elsewhere. Before him, fan favourite Roman Hamrlik wanted to end his career in Montreal, but wanted more security with a longer term. Ultimately the Czech defender signed with the Capitals but his game was never the same. Being unwillingly uprooted at the end of a career can do that to a hockey player.

Smart, Talented and Experienced D-Men Don’t Grow on Trees

Markov is a smart, talented player with great vision who possesses the knack of finding open players, sometimes making offensive plays out of nothing. He makes strong first passes out of his zone and is cool and collected with the puck. He’s been the quarterback of the Canadiens’ powerplay for years now. So who could fill the bill if GM Bergevin decided to part ways with him?

That’s a tough call.

No doubt, Bergevin could decide to use the money it would take to sign Markov and try to land a pure goal scorer – something the Canadiens need. But Markov is an irreplaceable commodity: His experience, his savvy, and his knowledge of the Montreal hockey market make him a unique player and possibly the cornerstone of a team that could become a cup contender over the next few seasons. If he stays healthy, that is.

And who wouldn’t want to see Andrei Markov lift the cup in a Habs jersey? Well maybe Zdeno Chara. But that’s another thing.

Ari Grief is a good boy who eats all of his broccoli. Find out how he prepares it on Facebook and twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand